On the eve of my Author Week with CHINDIAuthors, of which I am immensely proud to be a member, I am talking to Joanna Mallory about her recent setback. Be in her company for a few seconds and you quickly realise she is a fighter. I make no excuses for putting her first in my series of interviews. My latest book, MAVIS AND DOT, was written in memory of my best friend, who didn’t realise how ill she was and who shouldered on, ignoring symptoms, putting up with warning signs. I feel guilty too. She told me her tummy was bloated and she had persistent back ache; she didn’t feel right. To many women this is a normal part of every month and so neither of us worried. But she was suffering from ovarian cancer and it was too late by the time the doctors diagnosed it.
We have to talk and share our problems. Don’t keep them bottled up.
As Dot says to Mavis, in Chapter Nine of MAVIS AND DOT, after revealing a secret that has tormented her since she was a teenager and which shaped the rest of her life and caused much misery:
“ ‘Do you know, I feel a lot better now. Telling you seems to have helped – like lancing a boil.’
‘A problem shared is a problem halved, as they say. Now let me put the kettle on and make some fresh toast – your eggs have gone cold.’
‘Tea again,’ laughed Dot, ‘we’ll start to look like teapots.’”
But enough of Mavis and Dot. It’s time to meet lovely Joanna, a fellow Chindean.
Thanks so much for having me on your blog today, to talk about an issue that is so close to both our hearts.
Just to give a little background; I was whipped into hospital just before Christmas, after experiencing sudden and unexpected abdominal pain.
They found a mass on my ovary, and couldn’t rule out ovarian cancer… Which is a funny way to word it, I know. But I have to say it like this, as it helps me to process what I’m dealing with. And at this stage, if you are going through something like this, my biggest advice tip is; if you have to trick your brain – Go for It. Whatever little methods you use so that you can keep moving forward is key.
And if someone you love is going through something like this, don’t correct them if they brush it off, or make light of their situation. It may be how they’re coping.
After spending a couple of days in the hospital with my iPad and lots of time, you can imagine how my Google search history looked. It was at this point that I knew I wanted to talk about what I was going through, and how it made me feel – for no other reason than to hopefully help women just like me.
You see, there was very little out-there about living each day, or what happens next, or even just sharing stories. Which is why I took to YouTube. It’s hard and scary to share, there are so many difficult things to talk about. But sitting in the hospital, I so wanted to read and see the success stories, to hear the voices of women who’d been through things like this and come out fighting.
And that’s why I’m here today to wave the flag for my little channel and say ‘come on over, we’re all in this together. Let’s raise awareness and take good care of our uteruses.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you soldiered on (in typical woman-mode)? When did you seek medical help?
This is a tough one to answer – because the truth is; I was foolish. I did the ‘Mum thing’ and kept going. When the pain hit I was sat in a chilly Sand School waiting for my daughter to finish her riding lesson. And it was awful, I struggled back to the car, and I remember being so grateful that the place was deserted as everyone was in lesson.
Pretty daft really.
My legs and soon my whole body was shaking. As I got to my car I was sick – this is one of the oddest things I’ve struggled to say when I’ve told people. I don’t know why, but it just felt like an awful thing to admit to.
I now know the pain was caused by my ovary moving and the tube twisting; being sick is a reaction to the pain and the movement.
I sat in the car for nearly forty minutes, waiting for the pain to subside. But it didn’t. I thought it was food poisoning, all I could think about was getting home.
My brain, I suppose had gone into protection mode; two of my teenage children were home, my youngest daughter was with me, and my husband was at work. I just had to get home, and everything would work out. It was just some nasty upset stomach that would pass…
I got home, took some paracetamol and laid down, hoping that would be it. I managed to sleep, and by evening I felt frail but okay-ish.
(Now I know the ovary had rolled half way back, releasing some of the pressure on the tube.)
It’s the most surreal thing, now I look back on it; I would have route-marched any of mine straight to the hospital. But I just kept insisting I was fine. After all, there was nothing wrong with me. I’m fit and healthy – a few extra pounds I’d like to be rid of, sure. But otherwise, I’m okay.
And I think this is a problem for so many of us; we push on. Early diagnosis for any condition is paramount. Don’t wait.
I’d suffered with heavy periods for years, I take (prescribed) iron because of it. I missed my last smear-test because I just felt too icky about having it done to go…
What a wally I was.
It was Sunday night, thirty-six hours later, that I lay in bed and everyone was asleep that I woke up. I was just all over uncomfortable, and the pain in my abdomen had dropped to the right-hand side, and I remember drowsily thinking ‘you’re an idiot, this could be an appendicitis, what are you playing at?’
Monday morning, I dropped the children to the station, drove straight to my doctors and told the receptionist my suspicion. My doctor saw me within twenty minutes and had referred me straight to the surgical assessment unit at the hospital. And then the roller coaster really got started.
My goodness, Jo. What an ordeal. Now it’s out in the open, how has everybody reacted? Friends? Family?
It’s been a strange time, impossible to imagine until you’re living it. My parents-in-law and my step-mum are worried – very worried. But my step-mum had something very similar that resulted in a full hysterectomy at twenty-five, so I focus on that.
My friends are mostly shocked, and I think this is because we’re all so busy rushing around, juggling children, work and life, that all of sudden life feels very grown-up. The biggest factor that stands out to me is that it was unexpected, this is the hardest thing my friends and family struggle to cope with. They get a strangely confused look on their faces – and I’m right there with them. There are times when I can almost forget. When it doesn’t seem real.
Moving forward I’m doing okay, uncomfortable by okay – we’re controlling the pain so the results of MRI had chance to get lots of eyes and medical opinions. And now I have surgery on the 13th of February, for a full hysterectomy. It’s most likely to be full open surgery as the mass is quite big, and they don’t want to risk perforation. The rest of my blood levels are normal and clear, and they are positive that the risk of ovarian cancer is low. Which is what I’m staying centered on. Once the surgery is done my aim is to get well, and deal with the menopause as it decides to come at me. I nervous about the healing, as I’m not good at sitting still and waiting but I have my writing, so I can escape to the outside world. And I want to keep making YouTube videos talking about this; the stages, the healing and what comes next. Because I think we need to share more than facts, we need to share our stories, to encourage women of all ages to go to the doctor, to have smear tests, to ask the difficult questions.
Thanks so, so much for being open with us. I know there will be so many positive thoughts winging your way on the 12th February. It’s my Mum’s birthday, so I’ll have both of you in my heart on that day. And thanks for letting us hear you open up on your You-tube vlog. Here is the LINK everybody.
Please spread the word to all and sundry about opening up and taking care of ourselves. We have to listen to our bodies and the little voice whispering that all is not right.
If you would like to get in touch with amazing Jo, here’s where: